BECAUSE HOLLYWOOD RUNS ON MONEY, and then so many trade journals and movie/business blogs and entertainment shows largely run on Hollywood, the weekly box office numbers actually matter. Until they don’t.
On Sunday, Hollywood studios — in an act of respectful 24-hour solemnity — agreed not to release their box-office estimates in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., shooting tragedy at a midnight screening of Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” that left 12 dead and 58 injured. The thumping of chests was set aside for the baring of hearts and bowing of heads.
Then today, because Hollywood runs on money, it was back to the business of reporting box office. Warner Bros. announced Monday that “The Dark Knight Rises” — Christopher Nolan ’s reported final film in his Batman trilogy — grossed a record-setting $160.8-million in its domestic debut, according to Reuters and Box Office Mojo.
Most weekends, domestic and global gross totals matter because they’re one measuring stick of success. For instance, the nearly $160.9-million debut is the biggest domestic opening ever for a 2-D film — and the third-biggest North America bow-in ever, trailing only this year’s “The Avengers” ($207.4-million debut) and last year’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” ($169.1-million), both of which partly benefited from jacked-up 3-D ticket prices.
The previous record for the debut of a non-3-D film was Nolan’s prior Batman film: 2008’s “The Dark Knight” ($158.4-million), for which Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his performance as the Joker.
Update: And fresh off the new film’s record weekend, Warner Bros. — working in coordination with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper — announced late Monday that it will make a “substantial” donation to Aurora shooting victims, Variety reports. According to the trade paper, ”The funds will be donated through Colorado's Community First Foundation, identified on the givingfirst.org website and distributed through several charities that support the shooting victims.”
[‘DARK KNIGHT RISES’: Christopher Nolan responds to Aurora’s “senseless” tragedy]
This past weekend, though, the box-office numbers matter for a different reason:
After Aurora, they’re a measuring stick for how America filmgoers are responding to one of the worst shooting rampages in U.S. history — and the one that will be remembered for shaking many illusions about the relative safety of the movie theater.
How “The Dark Knight Rises” fares not only this week but also during its entire theatrical run will reflect whether many Americans feel safe to return. Box-office trackers, in fact, will be watching closely to see whether the turnout dips for any length of time to ALL movies now playing in theaters.
Author, comics writer and Batman historian Brad Meltzer told Comic Riffs on Friday that he believes this country needs superheroes now because we Americans are scared — and have been especially so since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
But will many filmgoers steer clear of a cinematic superhero precisely because they are scared after a theater shooting?
Some friends and colleagues have told Comic Riffs that they’ll make it a point to see “Dark Knight Rises” in the theater because if they don’t, then — in language of so evocative of 9/11 rhetoric — “terrorism wins.”
Some “Dark Knight Rises” fans have said they went to the theater while acknowledging their own nervousness, or have cited increased security as a comfort, or have said that a single shooting tragedy by a crazed gunman doesn’t increase the likelihood that their neighborhood theater will be attacked — and that this isn’t about copycat crimes.
(As one North Dakota filmgoer told the Associated Press: “I’m not going to let some nut who shoots people dictate what I’m going to do.”)
Today, by getting to the business of reporting the box office numbers, Hollywood doesn’t diminish the scope and scale and pain of the tragedy that will remain an emotional scar on the nation alongside Columbine and Tucson and Fort Hood and San Ysidro and Virginia Tech.
Uniquely this week, the box office numbers should remind Americans how able they are — mindfully, with heavy hearts — to begin to get back to some aspects of business.